Bringing us all together

At the end of September, I went to a conference sponsored by Lyngblomsten—the health care and housing complex a few blocks away from Como Park Lutheran Church.  It was held at North Heights Lutheran Church and featured two professors that I’ve taken classes from at Luther Seminary, Prof. Emeritus Rev. Dr. Janet Ramsey and the Director of Children, Youth and Family Dr. Terri Elton. 

The focus was on intergenerational ministry—how does youth and family meet senior ministry. 

Think about where you are in your life.  Are you in the first 1/3—that is, under 30?  Are you in the last 1/3—over 60?  Maybe you’re in the middle.  What stereotypes or generalizations do you make about the other two?  Are people too young and don’t have enough experience?  Are people too old and too resistant to change? 

There has to be a balance.  Dr. Elton said that “if there’s too much change, there’s not enough grounding.  If there’s too much tradition, creativity is squelched.”  It is inappropriate to assume that elder members are not creative, and it’s inappropriate to assume that younger members don’t care about tradition.

When it came time to picture what an inter-generational congregation might look like, I thought about some of the things going on here at Como Park Lutheran—faith mentors for confirmation, and the youth group participating in the E-100 Bible study.  There is already work being done to bring people together.

But can we do more?  Can we embrace the wisdom and care of our elders?  Can we appreciate the enthusiasm and curiosity of our youth?  Can we work harder and be more intentional to seek it out and bring ourselves together? 

I like what I’ve seen in my short time here—people caring for people and coming together; seniors who share their wisdom and are looked up to with respect; youth who regularly sing the liturgy and participate in worship. 

As Dr. Elton said, learning faith is like learning a 2nd language—it comes more naturally when you are immersed in it.  Fortunately, this goes both ways—those to learn and those to teach.  At CPLC, there is an abundance of both.

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Someone who stood up to Terry Jones, great backstory

Jim Wallis wrote an excellent article in the Washington Post about the efforts of Christian groups to put an end to Terry Jones Quran burning.

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Who is God?

The first reading for this week’s E100 is from Genesis. 

Creation: Genesis 1:1-2:25

What do you believe about God?  Who is God?

           What I find to be the most interesting about Genesis 1:1-2:25 is that we basically get the story twice.  Like the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John give four unique accounts of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, what happens at the beginning of Genesis is two unique accounts of how the world as we know it came into being.  At the center of this is God.  “In the beginning when God created” indicates that God was already there before anything was created—God played a hand in putting together the heavens and the earth, light and dark, oceans and animals, and then humankind.  In verse 26, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” 

            Notice anything unusual about this statement?  “Us” and “Our”?  Is there one God or many God’s in heaven who are responsible for creation?  This could be a Trinitarian view of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It could be, as some opposed to the trinity would argue, that God is speaking of himself majestically as if he were a king.  Others suggest that he’s with the angels and part of our image is from angels, but angels don’t create—they aren’t God.  And who is God in the first account of creation?  If we are in God’s image, does that mean that God looks similar to us? 

            Why do we get a second story?  What is happening in Gen 2:4b that is different than what precedes it?  We get the details on how God creates man and woman.  First, the LORD God (not just God, notice the difference in how God is identified) creates a man.  Man gets a garden and food, a river.  But in verse 18, the LORD God realizes man shouldn’t be alone—and he does something.  The LORD God makes him animals.  But they aren’t suitable partners.  The LORD God has an idea—I’ll (not we’ll, just a singular LORD God) make him a suitable partner.  With the man, the LORD God formed him from the dust of the ground and then breathed into him.  With the woman, the LORD God uses the man to create—takes his rib to make woman.  And the man names the woman.  The LORD God is not solely responsible for how everything is created, the man gets responsibility to name the animals and woman. 

Why is there such a discrepancy between the two creation accounts?  What does this tell us about God?

As Terry Fretheim wrote in Pentateuch, the purpose of the narratives are not easy to clarify.  These were written by God’s chosen people after many generations of being passed along orally.  The purpose of the story, which is similar in many religions, is to be theological and kerygmatic—proclaiming the witness to God’s role in the lives of the Israelites. 

Walter Brueggemann, in his book Interpretation: Genesis observed that Gen 2:4b-25 (and further, including the “fall” story) are the most used, but also the most misused—misinterpreted, misunderstood, texts in the entire Bible.   

What does this tell me about God and who God is?  It shows that there is a lot of ambiguity, a lot of room for interpretation, and a lot of room for people to take this part of the Bible literally.  The hard part for me in taking it literally is that, right off the bat, there seems to be contradiction.  We have an account of an all powerful God who does everything alone (or at least, as one God-self that speaks in the plural).  Then another account in which the man is a helper, assisting LORD God in naming. 

You can’t have it both ways, can you?  There are Christian evolutions who are able to see the power and miracle of Christ over time.  There are atheists who believe that this story of Creation contradicts a Christian point of view and thus, God cannot exist—the universe and all that is around us just happened—random chance, Big Bang, slow, gradual, change. 

What does this all mean to me?  God is all around us.  God is continually creating and we continue to evolve and participate in God’s creation.  We are actively making the world into what it is.  My image of God is not of a figure or a older man with a long gray beard.  God is out there, but like all the wonders of God’s creation, we are left to wonder what exactly that means.  I don’t have all of the answers and I don’t think anyone can provide a proof that shows God doesn’t exist.  What I’m left with is faith.  Faith in what I don’t know with exact certainty, but faith is seeing what’s around me and believing that God created it with love, with hope, and with excitement—this creation is beautiful and should be cherished by all of us.

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Why I’m excited about the E-100 Bible reading initiative

I have a lot of questions about the Bible.  How does it all come together and how has so much of what we believe been shaped by this book that was composed over many years and has lasted the tests of time? 

With the start of the Bible reading initiative, the opportunity to dialogue about many of these questions will be happening–in the home, in adult forum, over Wednesday evening meals.  But it doesn’t need to stop there.  If you’re like me, if there is something on your mind–like “What do you believe about God?  Who is he?” (and maybe the “he” stirs up something inside of you that you would love to argue about!)–then you will probably talk about it with your friends and co-workers too. 

I clearly see that the target of the E-100 series is to get people comfortable talking about the Bible stories and being more familiar with the Bible narrative, but it doesn’t just mean that it’s so you feel more confident or knowledgable at church.  This may happen, and that’s great, but I think about one of my friends who hasn’t been to church since he was a kid but is still curious about faith and spirituality.  Maybe he isn’t ready to come right into a church again, but if I said, “I was just talking about whether God exists–Stephen Hawking doesn’t think so–what do you think about that?”  This would definitely lead into an interesting conversation. 

If we have conversations about God and sin or the strained/broken family relationships that we’ll talk about with Jacob and Esau, this is something that may provoke thoughtful conversation and begin to create connections and curiosity. 

If you’re like me, relationships are built on trust and sharing what’s on your mind.  The E100 allows us to build relationships with each other, but remember, just because it’s scheduled at church on Sunday and Wednesday, the conversations and relationships are happening every day.  Blessings to you as you begin this exciting and challenging journey.  Enjoy the stories and questions.  Enjoy the conversation and opportunities to express what you’re learning.

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Standing up to Terry Jones

How would you feel if you heard there was going to be a group burning Bibles down the street?  Maybe if someone said “Christ is the Devil” we’d get pretty upset. 

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a Muslim who hears about Pastor Terry Jones plan to burn the Quran and says “Islam is of the Devil.”  First of all, the US Military spoke out against this behavior because it threatens our troop’s safety and has instigated further anger towards Americans. 

When told that General Petraeus had concerns over the burning of the Quran, Jones had this to say, “We are also concerned and wondering, when do we stop? How much do we back down? … Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s to time to stand up.”

So I ask you, how do we stand up?  Is burning a Quran in our country standing up to an enemy abroad that only uses our actions to fuel their negative opinion of us more?  Every year as September 11th rolls around, we are reminded of the terrorist actions that were put into motion.  It has been convenient and easy to label the enemy as Muslims.  Is this what Christ is asking us to do?

We live in a world of many religious views and many beliefs.  How do we live in this world as Christians?  Are we to condemn those who don’t follow Christ?  Are we to consider them an enemy if they don’t see things the same way we do? 

As I learned as a participant in the Parliament of the World’s Religions last December in Melbourne, Australia, many of the world’s religions have a lot in common—namely, a sense of justice and yearning to help those who are in need, hungry, cold, or suffering from oppression.  This sounds like part of our mission as Lutherans.  Countless Muslims were present, joining this calling.  There is good in the hearts of many people in this world. 

It is our opportunity to stand up to intolerance, fear, and ignorance.  Instead of judging that our enemy is another religion, let’s see where this religion is our neighbor.  Maybe we serve meals on a different night than they do or we each are contributing funds to the same neighborhood organizations. 

Perhaps the best way to, as Terry Jones said “stand up instead of back down” is to see where we can come together and break down the stereotypes we have of each other.  As a society, we can raise a loud voice against Terry Jones, like the Vatican did recently.  Learn about our differences.  You might be surprised to find that we have a lot more in common than we do against.

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